Let me tell you a tale. A tale about a small town in the province of Castellón, in what is called Costa del Azahar, along the Mediterranean coast in Spain. It is called Peñíscola and it sits somewhere between the well known cities of Barcelona and Valencia. Peñíscola is a beautiful little town, lively and full of character, a very popular holiday spot amongst Spanish tourists in the Summer months (other nationalities like to visit too, it is just not as known as other Mediterranean areas).
There is some history behind Peñíscola. There is a castle, called Castillo del Papa Luna”orPeñíscola Castle”, a very popular attraction nowadays. The castle is part of the tale. It sits on a rock about 64 feet above the sea, a rock which is joined to the mainland by only a narrow strip of land and, due to its strategic location, was wanted and taken by all sorts of invaders in the past: the Greeks, the Romans and the Arabs amongst them.
When James I conquered the territory there was already a Moorish fortress there; he gave it to the Knights Templar, who had helped him with the war, and they built the castle on the remains between 1294 and 1307. Later, in the 15th century, Pope Benedict XIII (Papa Luna”) moved in for 6 years until he died, making small alterations and transforming it into a palace in the process. Since then there have been a number of alterations to the castle, even the addition of a couple of walls in order to shoot a Spanish film called El Cid in 1960!
When in Peñíscola visiting Castillo del Papa Luna”is a must: if anything the panoramic view from the top of the castle is breath taking, and it is worthwhile climbing all the steps to the top for the fantastic view.
The cobbled streets in and around the castle are quite steep, but quirky and quaint, with small bars and shops embedded within the beautiful white buildings that make the original Peñíscola. The tale says history, power, turmoil, fighting… yet also beauty, inspiration and calm, life now no doubt somehow shaped by all those past events.
Of course there have been plenty of additions to the original town: there are quite a few hotels, bars, restaurants, shops and other residential buildings, as well as a lot of small houses built on the hills behind the town and overlooking the stunning coastline and cosy seaport.
The beach is long with golden sand, and it has been stretched and filled in by man over the years to now join the other side of the bay where the town of Benicarló sits. Benicarló is not as spectacular. Nevertheless it is a nice little market town with a lovely beach and port, a more relaxed location at the other end of the bay which is worth visiting for a quieter experience in a quieter though still busy beach.
A hidden gem in the Mediterranean, which will hopefully remain fairly hidden and enjoyed by all those looking for a slightly different kind of break. Am I letting the secret out…?